Trump says military option with North Korea is ‘locked and loaded’
US president steps up rhetoric while Beijing warns both sides to end ‘reckless game’
US President Donald Trump warned North Korea that “military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded”, in case the country’s leader Kim Jong-un acts “unwisely” amid a stand-off over its nuclear and missile programmes.
“Hopefully Kim Jong-un will find another path!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
The message from Trump caps a week of new UN sanctions against Pyongyang, intelligence pointing to the North having the ability to fire nuclear-tipped missiles, followed by a volley of militaristic threats between Trump and the reclusive nation.
Earlier in the week, Trump threatened to hit North Korea with “fire and fury” if its government continued its provocations.
State media in Pyongyang responded by outlining plans to fire missiles into the waters near the US Pacific territory of Guam, a few hundred kilometres south of the Korean Peninsula.
China’s state media weighed in on Friday, warning the US and North Korea they were engaging in a “reckless game” that runs the risk of descending into a real war and offering them blunt advice.
A Global Times editorial said Beijing made it clear to both sides that “when their actions jeopardise China’s interests, China will respond with a firm hand”.
“China should also make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten US soil first and the US retaliates, China will stay neutral,” it went on.
“If the US and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also cautioned that the risks of escalation of tensions between the US and North Korea were “very high” following the recent war of words.
“I believe the risks are very high, especially considering this rhetoric, when direct threats of using force are voiced,” Lavrov said at a youth forum in the Vladimir region east of Moscow.
He added that “the side that is stronger and cleverer” should take first step to defuse the crisis.
Lavrov urged Pyongyang and Washington to sign up to a previously unveiled joint Russian-Chinese plan under which North Korea would freeze missile tests and the US and South Korea would impose a moratorium on large-scale military exercises. Neither the US nor North Korea has embraced the plan.
On Thursday, Trump suggested that perhaps his “fire and fury” warning “wasn’t tough enough”.
“Frankly, the people who were questioning that statement, was it too tough? Maybe it wasn’t tough enough,” Trump told reporters outside his golf resort in New Jersey.
North Korea has “been doing this to our country for a long time, for many years, and it’s about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries. So if anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough”, he said.
US Secretary of Defence James Mattis also warned North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that his government’s military provocations may lead to “the end of its regime and the destruction of its people”.
Hours later, North Korea’s state media said the country is working on a plan, to be finalised in mid-August, to fire four missiles into waters near the US Pacific territory of Guam.
While estimates range for when North Korea will be able to deploy a nuclear warhead capable of reaching US cities, their military is seen as having medium-range ballistic missiles able to reach Guam.
“In June, 2016, North Korea succeeded in testing a Musadan intermediate-range missile,” the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations said this week.
“The Musadan missile has now expanded North Korea’s threat radius well outside the Korean peninsula, to include Japan, Guam, and US Navy vessels operating in the Pacific theatre,” the report said.
Additional reporting by Reuters, Agence France-Presse, The Washington Post